A new study has revealed that ‘bad luck’ only accounts for around a third of cancer cases in the UK, confirming previous research which suggests that environmental factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption are key factors behind the development of cancers. This contradicts previous research published at the beginning of last year which argued that two thirds of cancers were the result of ‘chance mutations’ rather than lifestyle.
Further evidence that lifestyle choices increase cancer risk
This new research, published in scientific journal Nature, was conducted by doctors from New York’s Stony Brook Centre. They found that 70-90% of the risk of cancer types come from the extrinsic factors which can lead to cell mutation, compared to the intrinsic factors which are down to the way the body operates. The factors studied included smoking, exposure to UV radiation and others which have often been associated with a higher risk of cancer in the past.
“Luck” still plays somewhat of a role in cancer risk
Whilst the study has shown that extrinsic factors can lead to a higher risk of developing cancer, luck still plays somewhat of a role, considering that not everyone who smokes will develop cancer, or those who overexpose themselves to the sun will get skin cancer. Stony Brook’s director, Dr Yusuf Hannun, explained that people ‘cannot hide behind bad luck’, explaining:
“They can’t smoke and say it’s bad luck if they have cancer. It is like a revolver, intrinsic risk is one bullet. And if playing Russian roulette, then maybe one in six will get cancer – that’s the intrinsic bad luck. Now, what a smoker does is add two or three more bullets to that revolver. And now, they pull the trigger. There is still an element of luck as not every smoker gets cancer, but they have stacked the odds against them.”
He explained the importance of minimising these risks through the elimination of these factors from our lifestyles.
Lowering cancer risk through healthy lifestyles
Whilst some types of cancer, especially those which are genetic, fall into the ‘bad luck’ category, it’s important to note that reducing the risks of some of our most common types of cancers is down to the choices we make as individuals. Dr Emma Smith, from Cancer Research UK, explained: “While healthy habits like not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol are not a guarantee to protect against cancer, they do dramatically reduce the risk of developing the disease.”
January is a great time to make lifestyle changes, to give up harmful habits like smoking and excessive drinking, as well as making decisions to enjoy healthier diets and to exercise more. These factors also help reduce the risk of other illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease as well as reduce pressure on the NHS, which is suffering more and more at the hands of unhealthy living.
For more information about changes you can make to your lifestyle this year, read the NHS’ useful guide to sticking to your resolutions.